Remember pop-up shops? The hottest trend in retail? In fact, 2018 was officially declared the year of the pop-up when it started to seem like just about everyone in retail was experimenting with a pop-up shop concept of their own. Macy’s, Nordstrom, Ikea, Casper, Wayfair and what felt at the time countless others were bringing their own spring on the concept. They ranged from pop-ups in-store designed as discovery centers, to public nap-pods designed to give customers a chance to test-drive and digitally order a new mattress.
But as is often the case with things that are suddenly everywhere, consumers soon got pop-up burnout, and the deluge slowed to a trickle as pop-ups went out of style as quickly as they had come into it.
Until 2020. Pop-ups, according to reports, are poised to make a comeback according to reports. Commercial real estate landlords have entered 2021 pressed into a hard situation, as retail vacancy rates reached a seven-year high at start of the year. The pop-up model allows landlords to fill those vacancies, albeit for a shorter term than the typical average five-year retail lease. Spaces tend to rent five times faster when the lease term is shortened. Moreover, buildings coming off of short-term lease are easier to rent than vacant buildings, which tend to make an area look economically depressed. That is particularly true if the pop-up shop that housed in the physical space was popular.
Retailers, meanwhile, get a chance to put a toe into the slowly reawakening world of physical retail without taking on the risk of a long-term lease, and often for a lower cost than they would have otherwise had access to. Storefront found it was 80 percent cheaper to open a pop-up store rather than a traditional brick-and-mortar location.
And as 2020 has radically altered the face of retail, pop-up shops have gone upscale — with Gucci and North Face collaborating to bring a several thousand square foot pop-up to Brooklyn’s super-hip and highly affluent Williamsburg neighborhood. The pop-up was a big enough draw that even Manhattanites like Maxx Evan crossed the bridge for the retail event.
“I love fashion. I live in SoHo, but I work in Greenpoint,” Evan told Harpers. “So I got off early because I knew I had to check it out today, since it’s the first day.”
And while big names are working to make big splashes newer start-up brands like Recess’s CBD-infused water are leveraging pop-ups not only as a sales tool, but as a means by which they can directly interact with their consumer base to develop new tastes and flavors for the brand, according to reports.
Even Kylie Jenner is getting in on the action — with a pop-up shop for her cosmetics brand in Los Angeles stylized to look like the model and fashion icon’s pink bathroom, according to Women’s Wear Daily. The pop-up will showcase seven face-care products and two body care products, which will also be available online for purchase. The Kylie pop-up comes with a gamification element as well — visitors to the location can participate in an online game involving a selfie taken in the pop-up and then post with a specific tag and hashtag. The winner will be awarded one year of Kylie Skin products.
And in the era of COVID-19 and consumers concerned about health and safety reluctant to return to physical stores still – the pop-up shop has adapted and in many cases gone virtual. Barney’s, an iconic Manhattan department store that shuttered its doors in 2019 is coming back to the city — though this time in pop-up form on a floor of a former competitor. The Barney’s pop-up — Barney’s at Saks — takes up an entire floor of Saks 5th Avenue location and is increasingly customized for online shoppers as well. Saks has a dedicated Barneys at Saks eCommerce section where consumers can browse its selection of emerging and new-to-Saks brands, as well as virtual white glove service to help connect consumers to goods.
“We are excited to activate the next phase of our Barneys New York strategy in the form of a new shopping experience at Saks,” said ABG’s Group President, Lifestyle and Chief Brand Officer Jarrod Weber. “Barneys is an iconic, luxury brand. The launch of Barneys at Saks is a seminal moment to reignite the brand for the future within the current luxury retail environment.”
Will the pop-up shop, in physical or virtual form, be retail in 2021’s savior? Ultimately it seems that is likely a bit of an overstatement by the headline writers that have asserted it will be. Pop-ups only work, notably, in high traffic urban areas and these days “high traffic” has become a highly relative term in the world of retail. But given the massive bite that the pandemic period has taken out of commercial retail and the hesitancy it has created among digitizing merchants to make long-term commitments to physical spaces — pop-ups might just be a solid path to keeping physical retail open for businesses in the short term, as the long-term picture continues to resolve itself.